Treatment for Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Acute Myeloid Leukemia, AML is one of the several types of blood cancer. This cancer develops from cells that would have instead become white blood cells. It can also develop from other cells that form blood.

Acute myeloid leukemia starts in the bone marrow. This is the soft inner parts of bones. With acute types of leukemia such as AML, bone marrow cells don’t mature the way they’re supposed to. These immature cells, often called blast cells, just keep building up.

You may hear other names for acute myeloid leukemia. Doctors may call it:

  • Acute myelocytic leukemia
  • Acute myelogenous leukemia
  • Acute granulocytic leukemia
  • Acute non-lymphocytic leukemia

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AML may mimic the symptoms of flu or any other common disease in its early stages. The symptoms may also differ depending on the body organ that is affected.

Signs and symptoms of acute myelogenous leukemia include:

  • Fever
  • Bone pain
  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pale skin
  • Frequent infections
  • Easy bruising
  • Unusual bleeding, such as frequent nosebleeds and bleeding from the gums

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Risk factors affect a person chances of getting a disease. Once a risk factor is known, it is important to take a direction in the right step. This is in order to minimize the chances of the disease occurring. Some risk factors can be managed while others cannot.

A risk factor is something that affects your chance of getting a disease, such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, like smoking, can be changed. Others, like a person’s age or family history, can’t be changed.

But having a risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not mean that you definitely will get the disease. And many people who get the disease may have few or no known risk factors. Even if a person has a risk factor and develops cancer, it’s often very hard to know how much that risk factor contributed to the cancer.

There are some known risk factors for acute myeloid leukemia (AML).


The only proven lifestyle-related risk factor for AML is smoking. Many people know that smoking is linked to cancers of the lungs, mouth, throat, and larynx (voice box), but few realize that it can also affect cells that don’t come into direct contact with smoke. Cancer-causing substances in tobacco smoke are absorbed by the lungs and spread through the bloodstream to many parts of the body.

Certain chemical exposures

The risk of AML is increased by exposure to certain chemicals.

For example, long-term exposure to high levels of benzene is a risk factor for AML. Benzene is a solvent used in the rubber industry, oil refineries, chemical plants, shoe manufacturing, and gasoline-related industries, and is also found in cigarette smoke, gasoline and motor vehicle exhaust, and some glues, cleaning products, detergents, art supplies, and paints.

Some studies have linked heavy workplace exposure to formaldehyde with AML risk, but this link has not been seen in some other studies.

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It is important that a patient begins treatment as soon as possible if they are diagnosed with AML. The main type of treatment in this case is chemotherapy.

Most people with acute myeloid leukemia start treatment quickly after diagnosis. The main treatment is chemotherapy. Other treatments you might need include blood transfusions, platelet transfusions and antibiotics.

If you have a very high white blood cell count when you are diagnosed you may have a procedure called leukapheresis. Leukapheresis removes the abnormal white blood cells from the blood. This procedure is not used for people with type M3 AML (acute promyelocytic leukemia) as it can cause bleeding in this type of AML. There is information about leukapheresis in the question and answer section.

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There are two phases in AML treatment.  The first phase is induction which is getting rid of the cancer and the second phase ensures that the cancer does not reoccur.

The initial phase of treatment is referred to as remission induction or “induction” therapy. Induction therapy is given with the goal of decreasing the number of leukemia cells to an undetectable level and restoring the production of normal blood cells. Most of the cells in your body divide and multiply slowly and are not affected by chemotherapy. However, certain cells, such as those in the bone marrow (where the blood cells are produced), the hair follicles, and the cells lining the gastrointestinal (GI) tract are multiplying rapidly. As a result, chemotherapy is most likely to cause side effects such as anemia (lowered red blood cell count), susceptibility to infection (lowered white blood cell count or low hemoglobin level) and bleeding (lowered platelet count). Other side effects include temporary loss of hair, sores in the mouth, upset stomach, and diarrhea.

Post-remission therapy is given with the intention of killing leukemia cells that can remain in the bone marrow or blood, but are undetectable under the microscope. There are three basic treatment choices for post-remission therapy: additional chemotherapy, stem cell transplantation from a donor (allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation), or stem cell transplantation using your own stem cells (autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation). The “best” post-remission treatment depends upon several factors, including how aggressive or resistant to treatment the AML is:

  • People with favorable risk disease are usually advised to continue with chemotherapy. Many of these patients are cured in this way.
  • People with unfavorable risk disease are usually advised to have an allogeneic stem cell transplantation, if possible.
  • The best treatment for intermediate risk disease is not clear; participation in a clinical trial is recommended, when possible.

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